April 26, 2019 / 6:25 AM / 25 days ago

World Bank's new president skips China's Belt and Road for Africa trip

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly 40 world leaders and scores of finance officials, including International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, are gathered in Beijing for China’s second Belt and Road infrastructure summit, but the World Bank’s new president is not among them.

FILE PHOTO: World Bank President David Malpass speaks during a news conference at the Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and IMF in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

David Malpass, fresh from a senior Trump administration post at the U.S. Treasury Department, is instead making his first foreign trip as the World Bank’s leader to sub-Saharan Africa to highlight his vision for the bank’s poverty reduction and development agenda.

The World Bank Group said in a press release that Malpass will visit Madagascar, Ethiopia and Mozambique April 29-May 3, meeting with leaders, stakeholders and visiting World Bank-funded projects. His trip will include the port city of Beira, which was devastated by Cyclone Idai in March.

World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva, who had been acting president during the leadership selection process, is representing the institution at the summit and had accepted China’s invitation before Malpass started at the bank on April 9, a World Bank spokesman said.

Former World Bank President Jim Yong Kim attended China’s first Belt and Road summit two years ago.

Leaders of two of the countries on Malpass’ trip, Ethiopia and Mozambique, are among a number of African leaders also attending this year’s summit.

Malpass, who was the Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, is a longtime critic of China’s Belt and Road lending practices and had worked to raise alarms about them with G7 and G20 countries.

“In lending, China often fails to adhere to international standards in areas such as anti-corruption, export credits, and finding coordinated and sustainable solutions to payment difficulties, such as those sought in the Paris Club,” Malpass told a U.S. House Financial Services subcommittee in December.

His absence coincides with a significant downgrade of the Belt and Road summit by the United States as the Trump administration tries to negotiate a deal to resolve longstanding trade and intellectual property disputes with China.

No high-level U.S. officials are attending, a State Department spokesman said, citing similar concerns about Belt and Road debt.

Malpass said in a statement that it was important to increase Africa’s development momentum to boost growth, raise incomes and tackle climate resilience because the world’s poorest are increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.

“I have chosen the African continent for my first official visit as World Bank Group president, recognizing the difficult challenges for leaders in promoting economic growth, security, and good governance,” he said.

The bank said he would focus the visit on promoting economic stability, building resilience and using private sector partnerships to build resources for development.

He told reporters on his first day on the job that he wanted to “evolve” the bank’s relationship with China to one where Beijing is a bigger contributor of capital and cooperates more closely with the bank on development issues and poverty reduction.

But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Malpass’ former boss, on the same day told U.S. lawmakers that the World Bank under Malpass’ leadership and a new U.S. development agency “can be a serious competitor to (China’s) Belt and Road.”

Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Jason Neely and David Gregorio

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